I have done a bit of research into obtaining free boxes, and thought I would share my findings here. Feel free to copy into the "Packing and Loading Tips" sticky if you'd like.
Some of my info is specific to my location (Richmond, VA); but hopefully a few tips will come in handy nationwide.
The following is a list of places where I at least inquired about getting boxes. Basically I called every big box store (other than grocery) in the area:
- Craigslist: One thing that I have found is that the demand for free boxes is typically much greater than the supply. At least in my area, there are few ads for "free boxes", and plenty of ads for "boxes wanted". I posted one such wanted ad, and about 5 days later got my only offer of 25 boxes, which was later rescinded because it turned out a friend wanted them. I also got a response from someone at http://www.usedcardboardboxes.com, but I can get new boxes for less than they offer used ones ($39 for a stack of 20 mediums). "The cheapest"? Yeah, right. Edited to add: I'll probably use Craigslist to give away our boxes in the end, though.
- Linens -n- Things: This place has been the most helpful of all. They told me to call between 6 and 7 am on W&F and ask for the manager on duty. (Turns out I can talk to whoever answers.) They have come through four times so far, and each time I have come home with a carful of boxes (around 30), many different sizes. On one occasion I asked for more medium-size boxes if they had them, and they came through. Each time, they typically have two canvas bins full of boxes, some of which are not the best dimensions, but most of which work just fine. Edited to add: I should note that the boxes are typically ready around mid-day. I usually pick them up on my way home from work.
- Sears: The one near me says they can have boxes at around 6pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, when they get their regular shipments. I took them up on the offer once, and got maybe 10 boxes. *shrug*
- Burlington: I have not yet taken them up on their offer, but the one near me says they have a constant supply of boxes, and wouldn't divulge when they actually got their shipments in. They say they have a large storage area, so they can keep lots of stock and unload bit by bit as they sell their goods. They said to call anytime and let them know what size boxes and when we'd like to pick them up. I did attempt to take them up on the offer earlier this week, but it turns out they had just done inventory so all available boxes had been opened and crushed. They said try again next week.
- Michael's: Said call 11:30am any Wednesday (otherwise they crush the boxes). They have a small storage area, so I'm not sure if they have room to keep them back there.
- Target: Said to call early in the morning (crushed otherwise). They were a bit more vague, and I think I could have benefitted from talking to someone further up.
- Walmart #1: I gave up on them. First time I spoke to someone, she said to come by between 10-11am any day and they would bring up boxes. I did so and was told that I was misinformed. Instead I should call around 10pm and ask the night stockers to reserve a few back in the layaway area. I tried that and the next morning they had about 15 boxes that were waaaaay too large or of inappropriate dimensions, and only about 5 that I could actually use.
- Walmart #2: I called the other Walmart near us (this one a 24-hr location) and both of the people that I spoke with suggested showing up at around midnight and scavenging as the stockers do their thing. Forget it.
- Lowe's / Home Depot: Their boxes tend to be way too big to use for moving HHG.
- Sam's: One of the people I spoke to at Lowe's mentioned that she had worked at Sam's. She suggested that I try going to the Sam's bakery area and asking them to save back some of their boxes. I have not tried this yet.
- Dillard's: Reuses their boxes.
- JCPenney: Reuses.
- Macy's: Reuses.
- Kohl's: Crushes theirs, no questions asked.
- Dick's Sporting Goods: Reuses.
- Toys 'R' Us: Reuses.
- TJMaxx: Crushes theirs, no questions asked.
- Barnes & Noble: Reuses/Recycles.
- Bed Bath & Banana - I mean Beyond: Crushes theirs, no questions asked.
- Circuit City: Tried to speak to someone with more than 5 brain cells, failed miserably, then got transferred - back to the main menu.
- Best Buy: Didn't bother, figured my experience would be similar to CC.
And of course most cities mid-size and up have a selection of free papers that can be used as packing material. I've never had a problem with newsprint staining anything, though YMMV.
Feel free to post your suggestions / experiences in this thread as well.